1. Kobe’s Pain: The big story of the last few days is the unfortunate Achilles tear suffered by Kobe Bryant at the end of his Friday game against the Lakers. The injury raised a few questions to examine. Let’s take a look and see if we can answer them.
–Does this injury end the Lakers’ season?
Well the Lakers are in the driver seat to make the eight seed still if they win their remaining games two games. Kobe’s presence would’ve given the Lakers a puncher’s shot of upsetting the Spurs or Thunder but that’s about it. Even with Kobe, the Lakers are a poor defensive team (20th in the NBA) and they have no one to match up with either Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker. The Lakers are 0-2 against the Spurs (with one more game to play) and 1-3 against the Thunder. So, the injury is disappointing on many levels but probably changes nothing for this season.
-Did heavy minutes cause this injury?
There really is no way we can answer this question but we do know that Kobe had averaged a ton of minutes the last few weeks. In the past seven games, Kobe did not play fewer than 41 minutes in any game and hit 47 minutes four times (and would’ve hit that number in the Warrior game if he hadn’t gotten hurt). For the season, Kobe has averaged 38.6 minutes per game, which was basically the same number as last season and fewer than in 2009-10. That sounds like heavy time but Michael Jordan played even more minutes at age 34 than Kobe did (38.8 mpg).
As for Achilles tears, I’m no doctor but WebMD indicates they can be caused by both a single isolated rauma or overuse. So, we can’t preclude the possibility that Kobe’s injury might have have been caused by being run too hard the last few weeks. We will never know the answer unless the Lakers let someone review the MRI of the tear to tell whether they are consistent with a sudden injury or wear and tear. Given all this, I’m agnostic on this question but do come away wondering whether Bryant should’ve been monitored a bit more carefully.
–Can Kobe still be Kobe next year?
Again, I’m no doctor but news reports believe it’ll take 9-12 months to recover and that he could lose a little lift afterwards. The only other big time players I can remember suffering this injury had mixed results.
Dominique Wilkins tore his Achilles on a similar play at age 32 in 1991-92. He returned the following year with no problems at all and even had a better PER. Here are the stats for comparison (on a per-36 minute basis):
-(pre-tear) 1991-92: 9.5 fgs, 20.6 fgas, .464 FG%, .289 3FG%, 7.9 ftas, 6.6 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.2 stls, 0.5 blks 2.7 tos, 26.5 pts. 22.2 PER
-(post-tear) 1992-93: 10.1 fgs, 21.5 fgas, .468 FG%, .380 3FG%, 8.5 ftas, 6.6 rebs, 3.1 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.4 blks, 2.5 tos, 28.8 pts, 24.3 PER
As can be seen, Wilkins was basically the same player after the tear. His numbers looked better because his three point shooting drastically improved (this was a fluke) but he was still able to get to the line and do all the other athletic things he was able to do before the injury.
The other recent(ish) case of a star player tearing an Achilles was Patrick Ewing during the 1998-99 playoffs (right before the Knicks famously went on a tear to the NBA Finals without him). At the time, Ewing was 36 and really slowing down as a player. He returned for the 1999-00 season and was not quite the same but close (his PER dropped from 19.4 to 16.9 the next season). Of course, Ewing was older and already declining rapidly, so it is hard to say how much of the decline at that age can be attributed to the injury. In any event, the Wilkins and Ewing cases give us optimism for Kobe. If an older and slower Ewing could still play post tear, there is no reason to think Kobe won’t likely have a few good seasons left. The rub, though, is that even if Kobe does come back close to his 2012-13 ability, he won’t be back until January (unless he tries to return insanely early) and there is a shot that the thin Lakers will be so mediocre without him (even assuming that Dwight Howard returns) that they will too far behind in the seedings to make a playoff run.
2. Louisville and the NBA: Louisville recently ran through the NBA tournament with relative ease. Despite this, they don’t have too much NBA talent (Gorgui Deng is the only projected first round right now). Of course, you don’t need an NBA star to win in college if you are as deep as Louisville is. The question I wondered is where each of the NCAA champs ranks in terms of NBA talent. Let’s take a look at all the titlists since the NCAA went to the 64-team tournament back in 1984-85 and assess which title teams had the best NBA talent:
Group I: Nothing but role players
-1984-85, Villanova (3 NBAers): Had one solid pro in Ed Pinckney, a decent pro in Harold Pressley, and fringer Dwayne McClain.
–1986-87 Indiana (3 NBAers): Well, barely three NBA players. Steve Alford played a few seasons off the bench and Keith Smart had only two NBA games. The best NBA players was Dean Garrett, who didn’t make it in the NBA until age-30 in 1996-97.
–1992-93 North Carolina (4 NBAers): No stars in this group. George Lynch had the best NBA career as a good bench guy and Eric Montross took up space for a while. Derrick Phelps and Matt Wenstrom played a combined 14 NBA games.
–1993-94 Arkansas (3 NBAers): Similar to 2012-13 Louisville…lots of college talent but not too many NBA impact players. Croliss Williamson was the best player and had a good NBA career while Corey Beck played on the fringe and Clint McDaniel had even less NBA time.
–1994-95 UCLA (6 NBAers): Despite so many pros, none made much impact at all. Ed O’Bannon was the only high draft choice but his knees prevented him from playing as a small forward. George Zidek, Tyus Edney, and J.R. Henderson, and Toby Bailey all hung around briefly. Of this entire group, only Edney played much at all and he was out of the NBA by age 28.
–2001-02 Maryland (4 NBAers): Maryland never turned out a star. Chris Wilcox has been decent and Steve Blake is a role player. Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter played a bit but have been gone from the NBA for some time now.
–2004-05 North Carolina (6 NBAers): Volume is here but quality is weak. Raymond Felton is pretty good and Marvin Williams solid. Sean May and Rashad McCants were busts and David Noel and Jawad Williams were fringers.
–2007-08 Kansas (6 NBAers): Another high volume/low quality NBA group. Darrell Arthur looks promising and Mario Chalmers is a bona fide NBA starter. Brandon rush looks solid (though he missed most of the year with a knee injury). Cole Aldrich is struggling to make it in the NBA. Sherron Collins and Darnell Jackson are fringers for now.
–2009-10 Duke (4 NBAers): It is too soon to tell but the group looks okay but unspectacular so far (Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Miles Plumlee, and Lance Thomas).
-2010-11 Connecticut (2 NBAers): Kemba Walker looks solid but it is not clear how Jeremy Lamb will be.
Group II: Some solid pros
-1985-86, Louisville (4 NBAers): The Cardinals had four NBA players but no stars. Pervis Ellison (who was a freshman star), stayed four years and was drafted first overall in 1989 but injuries prevented him from being too good. Billy Thompson was pretty good for a few years and Milt Wagner was a fringe player. Kenny Payne was a 19-year old freshman who barely played that season but worked his way to be drafted later (though he didn’t really stick in the NBA either).
–1987-88 Kansas (2 NBAers): We mentioned that you don’t necessarily need an NBA star to win an NCAA title. The Jayhawks showed that a star can’t hurt. This team was mostly Danny Manning (another top pick in the NBA draft) plus future GM Kevin Pritchard, who played 94 NBA games over a five-year career.
–1989-90 UNLV (3 NBAers): It felt like this team was an NBA roster but only three players made it (Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, and Stacey Augmon) and they all stuck pretty well.
–1998-99 Connecticut (3 NBAers): Rip Hamilton was the star of the team and is still playing. Khalid El-Amin played a bit for a terrible Bulls team and Jake Voskuhl took up space for a eight years.
-1999-00 Michigan State (4 NBAers): Jason Richardson and Morris Peterson had nice NBA careers (Richardson’s is still kind of going now). Mateen Cleaves had a few seasons and Charlie Bell worked hard and got some overly generous contracts as a result.
–2002-03 Syracuse (2 NBAers): Not much quantity here but Carmelo Anthony is nice quality. Hakim Warrick has been a decent player too.
–2003-04 Connecticut (6 NBAers): The core of this team has been very good in the NBA (Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor). Charlie Villanueva is serviceable enough (despite complaints about non-scoring portions of his game). Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, and Hilton Armstrong were all first round picks but only a few years.
-2005-06 Florida (5 NBAers): Al Horford and Joakim Noah look like very good pros and Corey Brewer is a decent bench player. Chris Richard and Taurean Green were fringers.
–2006-07 Florida (6 NBAers): Florida amazingly returned the same group the next season but added Marresse Speights.
–2008-09 North Carolina (6 NBAers): The book is still open on this team. For now, Ty Lawson is a potential star. Ed Davis, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, and Wayne Ellington look like potential role players and might be starters in the right situation. Tyler Zeller might be a solid backup big man.
–2011-12 Kentucky (6 NBAers): Anthony Davis a potential star and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could run the gamut as a pro. Who knows what exactly Doron Lamb, Terence Jones, Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller will be? Could move up with time.
Group III: Could almost field an NBA team
–1988-89 Michigan (5 NBAers): This was the first huge NBA class. Glen Rice was the best player but Loy Vaught and Terry Mills had nice careers. Rumeal Robinson and Sean Higgins hung around for a few years and Demetrius Calip was a fringers.
–1990-91 Duke (5 NBAers): Grant Hill was the big star on this team and Christian Laettner had a very nice pro career. Bobby Hurley was drafted high but struggled and had a big injury that knocked him out of the NBA early. Antonio Lang and Brian Davis made NBA cameos.
–1991-92 Duke (6 NBAers): In addition to the five players from the previous year, freshman Cherokee Parks would go on to be a decent pro for a few years.
-1995-96 Kentucky (9 NBAers): Pitino’s best recruiting came in the mid-1990s when the Wildcats were dripping with NBA quality. Antoine Walker was the star of the team but even the role players stuck (Walter McCarty, Tony Delk, Mark Pope, Nazr Mohammed). Derek Anderson was a nice pro and Ron Mercer was anticipated (though he was a bust). Finally, Wayne Turner and Jeff Sheppard made cameos. What a loaded team.
-1996-97 Arizona (5 NBAers): If you wondered how Kentucky ever lost in the mid-1990s you need only look at the backcourt for this team (Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, and Michael Dickerson). Two of these played at or near All-Star levels and Dickerson would’ve been a starter for a decade but for injuries. Miles Simon and A.J. Bramlett had cameos.
–1997-98 Kentucky (5 NBAers): Not quite as loaded as they were two years before but Mohammed, Sheppard, and Turner were still around. Throw in Jamaal Magloire and Scott Padgett, both of whom had nice NBA careers.
–2000-01 Duke (4 NBAers): Many a title team can squeeze out for NBAers but all of these Duke players were quality in the NBA (Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy) or would have been but for a motorcycle accident (Jay Williams).